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Deeper Commentary


Lev 11:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them-
Comparing the lists of clean and unclean animals in Lev. 11 and Dt. 14, we see the Deuteronomy list tends to be more specific. This is understandable; for the people were now going to enter the land, and there would be specific questions about specific animals.

Lev 11:2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the living things which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth-
Dt. 14:3 prefaces this teaching by saying that "you must not eat any abominable thing". See on :13. The word "abominable" has connections with idolatry. The reasons for defining certain animals as clear and others as unclean may be connected to the way in which the unclean animals were used in idol worship, especially by the Egyptians. There is a clear connection between unclean animals and idols in Is. 66:17; Ez. 8:10. There is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14), every creature is "good" and was made "very good" (1 Tim. 4:4); the differentiations were purely for teaching purposes, and therefore at the Lord's death the differences were collapsed. Peter struggled to accept this, but was taught that the unclean animals had been intended to represent the Gentiles- and now they were to be accepted on an equal footing to the Jews, the supposedly "clean" animals. Again we see the temporary nature of the law of Moses; the animals were not of themselves unclean originally, nor were they after the Lord's death.

Lev 11:3 Whatever parts the hoof, and is cloven-footed-
The sense of the Hebrew is "Whatever parts the hoof, and completely divides it". Some animals part the hoof but don't completely divide it to the end, such as the camel. The lesson would be that there must be clear division between clean and unclean, good and bad, and that division must not be begun and not finished. The line dividing good from evil must run to the end through every part of our lives. 

And chews the cud among the animals, that you may eat-
The Hebrew means to bring the food up again, to ruminate. Perhaps this was to represent ruminating upon God’s word; and being cloven-footed perhaps speaks of being sure footed and walking stably in life. To chew the cud (ruminate on God’s word) but not walk the talk (not having a cloven foot) still makes us unclean (:4). However, it may be that there is little significance in the chewing of the cud of itself, because doing so didn’t make the animal unclean of itself- it was just an exercise for Israel to teach them the concept of discernment, self control and obedience to God even when this meant practical inconvenience for them (see on :6).

Lev 11:4 Nevertheless these you shall not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those who part the hoof: the camel, because he chews the cud but doesn’t have a parted hoof, he is unclean to you-
Some animals part the hoof but don't completely divide it to the end (see on :3), such as the camel, which has a kind of ball at the back of their foot which means the hoof is not completely divided. The lesson would be that there must be clear division between clean and unclean, good and bad, and that division must not be begun and not finished. The line dividing good from evil must run to the end through every part of our lives. 

Lev 11:5 the rock badger, because he chews the cud but doesn’t have a parted hoof, he is unclean to you-
As with the language of demons in the New Testament, the Bible here speaks of things as they appear. For hares and rock badgers do chew the cud, but their munching movements, the lower jaw moving backward and forward, suggest they are chewers of the cud- but in fact they don't.

Lev 11:6 the hare, because she chews the cud but doesn’t part the hoof, she is unclean to you-
The hare was apparently thought to be avoided by demons ["jinns"] and so was worshipped; hare bones or skills were used as good luck charms, and still are among some Arab tribes. So the reason for having nothing to do with hares was religious rather than because hares are somehow more intrinsically unclean than other animals.

Lev 11:7 the pig, because he has a split hoof, and is cloven-footed, but doesn’t chew the cud, he is unclean to you-
Appearing to make a differentiation in our walk, our external life, is no good unless internally we are chewing the cud, masticating our food, ruminating upon God's word (:3). Many people appear to have made a division between themselves and society but this is no evidence that they are spiritual.

Lev 11:8 Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you-
The basis of the command to us in our age to “touch not the unclean thing” by being separate from sinful things (2 Cor. 6:17).

Lev 11:9 These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, that you may eat-
All fish have fins and scales, it's just that some aren't evident. We see here how the Bible is written in places from the viewpoint of humans, and according to their understanding of things, even if that understanding is false. And this is why we find mental illness attributed to "demons" in the New Testament, even though demons don't exist.

Lev 11:10 All that don’t have fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are to be an abomination to you-
The parable of the drag net pictures fishermen sitting down with their catch, throwing away the “bad” fish. These would’ve been the unclean sea creatures, e.g. crabs, which had got caught up in the net. This represented the ‘sitting’ of the final judgment at the last day (Mt. 13:48,49). We are to make that same division between good and bad in the choices we make today.

Lev 11:11 and you are to detest them. You shall not eat of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses-
As Israel were to "detest" idols and idolatry as "abomination" (Dt. 7:26), so they were to "abhor" and treat as "abomination" unclean animals (Lev. 11:11,13,43), lest they "make yourselves abominable [s.w. "detestable"] with any creeping thing" (Lev. 20:25). I suggest this is the reason why God designated some animals as 'abominable'; because of their association with idol worship. The idols of Egypt were often in the form of animals, and sex with animals was part of the rites. Just as in primitive societies today. There is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14); no animal is morally more or less clean than another. The commandments about unclean animals were clearly intended just for Israel living within a culture of idolatry / abomination involving those kinds of animals.      

Lev 11:12 Whatever has no fins nor scales in the waters, that is to be an abomination to you-
See on :9. "Abomination" is the language of idolatry, and it was the idolatrous associations which were the basis for these animals being forbidden; see on :2.

 Lev 11:13 These you shall detest among the birds they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the vulture, and the black vulture-
"Detest" is the word for "abomination", which further suggests that the unclean birds were to be rejected because they were associated with idol worship; not because they were somehow more intrinsically unclean than the "clean" animals. See on :2.

Lev 11:14 and the red kite, any kind of black kite-
Dt. 14:11 LXX makes it a command that "Ye shall eat every clean bird". The reference may specifically be to the birds used in the ritual of the cleansing of the leper; as if this was the only time a bird may be eaten. For the basis upon which clean and unclean animals were divided [chewing the cud, cloven hooves] doesn't apply to birds. It could be that birds were not to be eaten, apart from those sanctified or "made clean" by the rituals which used birds.

Lev 11:15 any kind of raven-
We note how Elijah was later to be made to depend upon food brought to him by unclean ravens (1 Kings 17:4-6). This was all part of God's program to educate him against exclusivity. God told Elijah that He had commanded unclean ravens to feed him; and thus He reminded Elijah of a basic fact, that God speaks to even unclean animals (Gen. 1:22)- and they obey him. The ravens not only obeyed Yahweh in going to Elijah, but in not eating the food they were carrying. Elijah likely considered that the fact God spoke to him meant that he must therefore have some automatic superiority over others. But not so. It’s the same with us. We can consider that because we have heard God’s true voice, we thereby are justified before Him. But He speaks to and uses all, clean and unclean.  

Lev 11:16 the horned owl, the screech owl, and the gull, any kind of hawk-
These birds all hunt and eat other unclean animals, and many of them were totems of the idols believed in by the nations. Again the idea was to teach God’s people the need to keep away from association with things which resembled sin, which would put ideas in the mind which tended towards sin rather than righteousness. This principle is so relevant today in connection with what we watch or read, for by presenting ourselves continually with sinful associations we are the more likely to ourselves fall into sin.

Lev 11:17 the barn owl, the cormorant, the great owl-
The extensive stress upon not eating owls of any kind (:18)was because the local tribes considered that owls were the most human-like of all birds. They were therefore worshipped and considered as mediators between the gods and man. There was to be no even going near these birds, because association is the basis of so much downward sliding in spiritual terms.

Lev 11:18 the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey-
See on :17. It is common in primitive societies for tribes and individuals to have totems, an animal or plant which they are associated with. This practice is common today in central Africa. Seeing there are no animals unclean of themselves, as the New Testament makes clear, one reason for the specific designation of some animals as "unclean" may be because they were associated with local tribes or individuals who were to be treated as unclean. The meaning of some of the names of the designated "unclean" animals are suggestive of individuals. 

Lev 11:19 the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe, and the bat-
Some of the birds forbidden as unclean were thought to be good luck symbols, and their carcasses were used as medicines or potions used in idol worship. The heron and bat were amongst these. The take away lesson is that we are to avoid all associations with that which is paganic and anti-God.

Lev 11:20 All flying insects that walk on all fours are an abomination to you-
Paul observes that there is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14). These animals were to be unclean “to you” because it was part of God’s method of teaching His people to make a moral choice in life, to recognize there is sin and righteousness, clean and unclean. There were hygienic reasons behind the prohibition of some animals, but the essential intention was to teach the concept of making a difference, of looking at something we could partake of and saying ‘No, that is not for me’. The fact God later withdrew the distinction between clean and unclean animals just confirms that they were not clean nor unclean of themselves; all had been created by God and declared “very good” in Genesis (1 Tim. 4:4). The distinctions between them were there to simply educate Israel in practicing the concept of separation and discernment between acceptable and unacceptable things in life.

Lev 11:21 Yet you may eat these: of all winged creeping things that go on all fours, which have legs above their feet, with which to hop on the earth-
Winged creeping things with feet recalls the language of the cherubim. These kinds of animals often had religious symbolism; the bas reliefs of Assyria and Babylon are full of such winged quadrupeds. Again we see that the prohibition about eating them was as it were a fence around the law. They were eaten in worship, and God wanted to ensure that there was not even to be the subconscious suggestion of idolatry for His people. 

Lev 11:22 Even of these you may eat: any kind of locust, any kind of bald locust, any kind of cricket, and any kind of grasshopper-
The difference between these and the larger winged creeping things of :21 was simply that these were not generally objects of worship.

Lev 11:23 But all winged creeping things which have four feet, are an abomination to you-
The idea may be that they had the potential to fly, but often preferred to crawl on earth. Refusing to use spiritual potential was seen as a bad thing, and Israel didn't need even the unconscious association with anything which resembled that. This is why so much which passes for entertainment would be better not viewed nor listened to by Christians; there is nothing unclean in itself, but the subliminal associations are what drag us down.  

Lev 11:24 By these you will become unclean: whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening-
See on :25. There was no requirement for sacrifice. But Lev. 5:2,6 taught that if a person touches an unclean thing and only later realizes they had done so, then they needed to offer a guilt offering. This seems to teach that moral weakness, immediately recognized, is less serious than unrecognized moral weakness which is later recognized. The requirement for a guilt offering was surely to underline the seriousness of sin even if committed in ignorance. And perhaps to thereby encourage thoughtfulness about and awareness of God's law, so that the cost and inconvenience of making a guilt offering was not incurred. 

Lev 11:25 Whoever carries any part of their carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening-
The more conscious was the association with uncleanness, the greater was the effort which made to be made to achieve cleansing. Thus if someone knowingly carried a carcass, they had to was their clothes in addition to being unclean. There is definitely a principle connection between knowledge and responsibility, and conscious defilement requires greater cleansing.

Lev 11:26 Every animal which parts the hoof, and is not cloven-footed, nor chews the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean-
See on :7. Parting the hoof, appearing to make a differentiation in our walk, our external life, is no good unless internally we are chewing the cud, masticating our food, ruminating upon God's word (:3). Many people appear to have made a division between themselves and society but this is no evidence that they are spiritual. Or we may note the warning that some part the hoof but aren't cloven footed, meaning that although they appear to make a division in their walk, they don't do so to the end. For not being cloven-footed means that the parted hoof doesn't remain parted right to the end of the hoof.

Lev 11:27 Whatever goes on its paws, among all animals that go on all fours, they are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening-
GNB "all four-footed animals with paws", LXX "all the wild beasts that moves upon its fore feet". The Hebrew for "paws" is the usual word for "hands". It is used in the sense of 'power' (1 Sam. 4:3 and often). Perhaps the message is that those animals which so overtly trust in their own natural strength and power should be avoided. Or maybe the idea is that animals which appear to be a mix of the animal and the human [by having "hands"] should be avoided. For these were the animals worshipped in paganism, and half human, half divine idols and gods are found everywhere in pagan thought. For the same reason as humans shouldn't have sex with animals, even the subliminal suggestion of these animals was to be avoided. For man is not on the same level as the beasts, and he should not act like that.       

Lev 11:28 He who carries their carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening. They are unclean to you-
We may enquire why a person would need to carry a carcass of an unclean animal. Possibly in order to move a carcass out of the way; but more likely, to use it for food or its skin for clothing. And this was forbidden. So the extra duty of washing clothes was introduced, because such behaviour was likely to lead closer to sin. We may despise fences around laws as legalistic, but in reality, the way of the Spirit requires wisdom and an appreciation in practical daily life decisions and structuring of our tendency to fall into sin.

Lev 11:29 These are they which are unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard-
AV "The mouse". The mouse is associated with idolatry in Is. 66:17. This shows how these laws were intended to keep Israel well away from even the subliminal suggestion towards such idolatry. But they didn't obey the food laws, and so they ended up participating in the very idolatry which the food laws were designed to psychologically preclude. 

Lev 11:30 the gecko, and the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the sand lizard and the chameleon-
The animals listed were known in the land promised to Abraham. This is another proof that the Law of Moses was not intended for world-wide Gentile use but was the covenant between God and Israel during a specific time and in a specific location on the earth.

Lev 11:31 These are they which are unclean to you among all that creep. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until the evening-
But the Hebrew could suggest that touching them dead or alive made unclean, hence GNB "Whoever touches them or their dead bodies will be unclean".

Lev 11:32 On whatever any of them falls when they are dead, it shall be unclean; whether it is any vessel of wood, or clothing, or skin, or sack, whatever vessel it is with which any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it will be clean-
This seems to suggest cases where things were inadvertently made unclean. The chance of harmful contamination being spread by a clean animal touching something was not less than that for an unclean animal. So these laws about washing the things with water were only partly for hygienic reasons; the teaching aspect was far greater.

Lev 11:33 Every earthen vessel, into which any of them falls, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it-
As noted on :32, if the reason was purely hygienic, then we would expect to read this about clean animals. We must ever recall that there is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14). The intention of these laws was to build up a culture of distaste and even fear of the unclean animals, because they were connected to idolatry. Even subliminal suggestions of idolatry were to be found distasteful. And this has huge relevance for us today. Why, then, would a Christian wish to read and view material which is full of subliminal suggestions and temptations to sin...

Lev 11:34 All food which may be eaten, that on which water comes, shall be unclean; and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean-
GNB "Any food which could normally be eaten, but on which water from such a pot has been poured, will be unclean, and anything drinkable in such a pot is unclean". This is not to be seen as supporting guilt by association, contamination by communion and other such unGodly extremism. As noted on :33, it was all part of a teaching mechanism, and the aim was to create a culture of distaste and even fear of the unclean animals, because they were connected to idolatry. 

Lev 11:35 Everything whereupon part of their carcass falls shall be unclean; whether it be an oven, or a range for pots, it shall be broken in pieces: they are unclean, and shall be unclean to you-
"Range for pots" is GNB "a clay stove"; or the idea may be 'covered pots', i.e. pots with lids. The outcome of this legislation would have been to ensure that unclean animals such as mice and lizards were kept out of the kitchen. It all contributed toward a cultural attitude towards these unclean animals, just as those raised in a Muslim culture may vomit at the thought of eating pork. This was how Israel were to feel to all the unclean animals, and therefore to the religious associations they had.   

Lev 11:36 Nevertheless a spring or a cistern in which water is gathered shall be clean; but that which touches their carcass shall be unclean-
It would be hard to legislate that a spring of water couldn't be used if an unclean animal fell into it. Clearly enough the hygienic reasons behind the legislation were only a minimal part of the thinking behind it. Otherwise the spring would have been declared unusable. Again we must recall that the chances of human contamination from many clean animals was about the same as from many unclean animals. There is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14).

Lev 11:37 If part of their carcass falls on any sowing seed which is to be sown, it is clean-
Again, the idea would be that barns and storehouses were best kept free of unclean animals like mice and lizards which were likely to cause this situation to come about. But we note that in this case, mere physical contact was not enough to make the seed unclean. Again, if the concerns were largely hygienic, then we would expect this. But it isn't the case, because they were being used as a teaching mechanism. Any hygienic benefit was in passing.  

Lev 11:38 But if water is put on the seed, and part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you-
GNB expresses the intent better: "But if the seed is soaking in water". There was indeed a higher chance of possible contamination due to the water, but again this is surely a teaching point. For the crop which was to later be produced from that seed would not be markedly inferior even if a dead mouse had fallen into the bowl of water where the seed was being soaked.

Lev 11:39 If any animal of which you may eat, dies; he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening-
An unclean animal would usually only be touched if it were being brought home to be eaten. It was possible to eat it, although doing so required washing clothes and being unclean (:40). Famine would only come if Israel were unfaithful to the covenant, but even in that case, God was considerate to their hunger and allowed the eating of unclean food- given the provisos of :40.

Lev 11:40 He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening-
See on :40. The structure of the law of Moses seemed to almost encourage the idea of serving God on different levels. After much study of it, the Rabbis concluded that there was within it “a distinction between holy and holy just as much as there is between holy and profane”. Take the uncleanness laws. They basically said: 'Don't touch an unclean animal. If you do, there's a penalty. If you carry the carcass, there's a more serious penalty. And if you carry the carcass home and eat it, there's something more serious. The highest ideal was not to touch the unclean thing. But there were concessions to weakness for those who either couldn't or wouldn't make the effort to attain the highest level of response to the will of God.

Lev 11:41 Every creeping thing that creeps on the earth is an abomination. It shall not be eaten-
This appears to contrast with the allowance for eating unclean meats in :40, if the person washed their clothes and became unclean until evening. As discussed on :40, the two ideas are clearly, consciously juxtaposed. Because the idea is that God could be served on different levels; although choosing the lower level, of eating unclean meat, made one more liable to break Divine law. Because clothes had to be washed, and they had to be unclean until evening- which meant they were likely to make others unclean by contact with them. So the path of lower levels only makes obedience and conformity to the Spirit that much harder.

Lev 11:42 Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, even all creeping things that creep on the earth, them you shall not eat; for they are an abomination-
They were not to associate themselves with animals which hugged the earth; just as we should not keep close to earthly things (Phil. 3:19) but seek the things which are above (Col. 3:1).

Lev 11:43 You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled thereby-
Abomination" is the word also used for idolatry. Making oneself abominable with an animal seems to allude to sexual behaviour. Sex with any animal was wrong, but here sex with unclean animals is focused upon. So here we have another big clue as to why some animals were designated unclean. They were associated with idolatry and perverted sexual behaviour which accompanied the idolatry.

Lev 11:44 For I am Yahweh your God. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any kind of creeping thing that moves on the earth-
The Hebrew words for sanctification and holiness include the ideas of both being negatively separated from and positively being separated unto. The whole legislation about clean and unclean animals was to try to teach Israel this principle. As such there was limited significance in the actual division of animals into clean and unclean- it was merely a teaching device.

Lev 11:45 For I am Yahweh who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy-
The great works of Yahweh which He showed at the time of their exodus from Egypt (cp. the world) and baptism at the Red Sea were in essence repeated throughout their wilderness journey (Dt. 7:19). Therefore whenever they faced discouragement and an apparent blockage to their way, they were to remember how God had redeemed them at their baptism, and to realize that in fact His work was still ongoing with them (Dt. 20:1). He told them in the desert that He was "Yahweh that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 11:45). Therefore the overcoming of Edom, Moab and the Canaanite tribes is described in language lifted from the Red Sea record (e.g. Ex. 15:15-17). Throughout their history, Israel were reminded that what God had done for them in their Red Sea deliverance He was continuing to do, and therefore all their enemies would likewise perish if they remained God's people (e.g. Is. 43:16). This didn’t just happen at the Red Sea, just as it wasn’t completed at our baptisms (1 Cor. 10:1,2). Our being brought out of Egypt and toward God is an ongoing process.


Lev 11:46 This is the law of the animal, and of the bird, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth-
The earth or eretz is clearly the land promised to Abraham. For the 'every creature' in view refers to those in that territory. This is evidence enough that the law of Moses was indeed a mark of the covenant between God and Israel, and as such has never been applicable to the Gentile world. If it were e.g. applicable in the Australian outback or northern Siberia, the examples of animals given would have been different. 

Lev 11:47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten’-
This need to make a distinction between clean and unclean was exactly what Nadab and Abihu had failed to do, as explained in the previous chapter (Lev. 10:10). Indeed I suggest that it is in this context that we now have this list distinguishing between clean and unclean animals. It is our failure to divide light from darkness, to allow everything to become shades of gray, which is our most common weakness.